9/11: Welcome to Our Tribe

Fifteen Years On



Except for those most personally affected, September 11, 2001, now resides, like the murder of JFK, as a “where I was” memory or as a fact of history known only through learning rather than direct experience.

A generation of young people stands on the verge of adulthood who were yet to be born on that cataclysmic day.

9/11 exposed our vulnerabilities and the consequences of nations in conflict, but also our resilience as a people.

The Context of 9/11

As the event recedes it becomes a part of our national narrative as well as an opportunity to understand what sets us apart from our aggressors.

For decades, and for whatever reasons, America has engaged in so-called “nation-building” and the “export of democracy” to places where  tribal identity completely trumps human rights or civil government.

Democracy only works when civil law guarantees the same liberties to everyone regardless of their ethnic heritage, gender, religious beliefs or other factors.

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts says our country is a “democracy under the rule of law”, differentiating it from the many places we set up shop abroad with the expectation they will decide to be just like us.

They won’t.

The reason?

The Constitution of the United States effectively subordinates “tribal” culture to the broader themes of individual liberty and a system of impartial justice, however aspirational.

Tribes do not promote equality, there purpose is to protect or gain power and if you are not in the tribe you are the “other.”

Still, you can have your “tribe” here, be it political, racial, religious or otherwise, but civil justice limits and controls the fervor of group behavior.

Much of the rest of the world does not operate that way and they have no incentive to do so.

Is it our collective national hubris which makes us think they wish to be like us?

An American Moment

In the days after the Eleventh of September, our nation was reeling, both seeking safety and inclined to lash out at those responsible.

Some, acting on their “tribal instinct” decided that all of the followers of Islam were to blame.

It was a pivotal moment where a yawning gap of fear appeared.

Into that gap stepped then President George Bush, who in act of  moral leadership did a most unpopular thing–he went to a mosque.

President Bush at the Islamic Center

President Bush at the Islamic Center

While there he reminded us all:

“Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.”

Bush, symbolically, at least, gathered up and protected Muslims that day and in so doing reminded us all of the sacred responsibility of our citizenship, to honor and protect the individual.

9/11 was a stress test of true American values.

We paid a terrible price but passed the test.

We have endured calamity and emerged stronger because Our Union, Indivisible is our tribe, a fact we should never forget.












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